House of Prayer, No. 2
In powerful prose, a writer sketches his eventful journey to a better self.
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A promising job working as a DJ at a local radio station and an early affinity for William Faulkner devolve into a failed stint at Washington and Lee College. Richard rambles – a few pages chronicle either a day or a decade – but his propulsive prose makes “House of Prayer No. 2” a surprising page turner. Somehow, even his Charles Bukowski-style drinking binges become as poignant on the page as... well, as Bukowski’s own storied melancholy.Skip to next paragraph
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When luck strikes, it’s a swift and sudden bolt from the blue. “You are working digging irrigation ditches, and one day you go into a convenience store to buy some beer and check out the magazines,” Richard writes. “There’s an Atlantic Monthly in the rack, and you are surprised to see that you are a finalist in their American short story contest.”
In fits and starts, Richard’s career unfolds. He contributes to The New Yorker and Esquire. He interviews Tom Waits. He writes a novel. He writes for TV. He writes the movie “Stop-Loss.”
If “House of Prayer No. 2” loses steam, it’s when Richard succeeds. “You get a book contract for ten thousand dollars” doesn’t pack as much punch as “Your wife says you must go see your dying father, and she is right.” It’s always more interesting to read about struggling artists than sought-after ones.
If Richard’s memoir must be rescued from publishing-biz navel-gazing, Christianity – another surprise – does the job. “It’s a Sunday afternoon in late winter on the Tennessee mountaintop where there is that fifty-foot cross, and you’re alone deep in the woods when you get the call to ministry,” he writes.
In a literary sense, Richard’s conversion is a bit of a bummer. Nobody but the church choir likes it when a rabble-rouser gets too preachy. Still, trying to reconcile with his sick father and start his own family, Richard embraces a friendly, no-frills faith. “There is no hymnal,” he writes of the titular House of Prayer No. 2 in Camptown, Va., a church he helped rebuild. “Sometimes during the singing you sing, sometimes you sit and pray, and sometimes you are just sitting there looking at your watch.”
For a born-again Christian, this is rare, welcome humility. But it’s typical of Richard. Where other memoirists – evangelical and/or literary – just bluff and brag, he makes art.
Justin Moyer is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.